START-UP STORIES: THE CHALLENGES FACING START-UPS IN BANGKOK
In a new series of blogs, we’re asking our clients about their experiences in the business world, from hacking horror stories to advice on how to create a safe and secure online business. For our first entry, we’re delving into the fast-paced world of start-ups and asking what challenges lie ahead for budding Bangkok entrepreneurs.
FROM VISION TO REALITY
According to the Bangkok Post, 2015 was the year of Thai start-ups, with 2,500 registered start-ups launching – a massive jump compared to the 300 start-ups launched in 2014. With 2016 forecast to see numbers rise even higher, we sat down with the young minds behind Zabaii – a fresh start-up looking to shake-up private messenger services in Bangkok – and asked them what challenges they faced when launching.
Zabaii is an app-based messenger service launching in 2016 that offers users an easy, effective and inexpensive way to have their daily errands completed in order to save time and effort.
“Zabaii was an idea that first came up with when talking to my brother; we were thinking of a way to buy stuff more easily,” said Buddy, 22, one of the three co-founders of Zabaii. “During the planning stage, I thought it might be more useful to have a service that did more than just buy stuff, but did other services as well.” From there, Zabaii was born with Man and Arnon, both also 22, completing the team. So what challenges did they face during the creation, funding and launch of Zabaii?
One of the first challenges that came up during our conversation was the search for investors. While Zabaii has successfully found enough investment to launch the start-up, they’re currently searching for more funding, which due to the fact Thailand is still new to the start-up world, has proved more of a challenge.
According to Man, who spent the past three years living in the US: “There are some more conventions for start-ups in Bangkok, but compared to countries like the US, there is far less opportunity…finding investors for our future, for more features we might add, has been much harder.” When pressed about what investors are looking for, Man responded by noting the mentality towards start-ups in Thailand: “One of the main markets for us in terms of finding investors is the baby-boomer generation, they’re the ones who want to find a business to invest in that offers something to the world, while of course being profitable.”
Man believes there are plenty of investors like this searching for start-ups to back, however with only a handful of conventions, or even a lack in valuable start-ups themselves, this may be holding Bangkok back somewhat in terms of becoming a hub for start-ups: “Universities could perhaps do more. There are some universities encouraging students to think about start-ups, but again, there could be more, more competitions, more networking opportunities.”
TRACKING DOWN TALENT
With any start-up, talent is key. After finding investment, the founders soon hit a major roadblock when it came to finding developers to turn their ideas into an app: “We approached four different developers. The first three just weren’t on the same wavelength as us, and in our opinion, weren’t offering a product that we felt met the industry standard,” Man explained. “We wanted a developer to team up with, someone who would critique our idea and comment on where we could change things – someone that was really involved.”
According to the guys, the standard of developers in Thailand, while good, isn’t quite good enough. Where that stems from is hard to say, perhaps it’s a lack of experience and knowledge or even a lack of drive. It wasn’t until Zabaii met Vimi that things started to get back on track: “Once we met Vimi, we were excited. Mike knew what we were doing, seemed to have the knowledge of the industry standard and would build us the app we wanted” said Buddy.
Aside from sourcing investment and talent, there’s also the issue of Thailand itself as a country for launching a business. Political instability, economic woes and sometimes baffling bureaucracy caused further challenges for Zabaii:
“Launching a business, doing the paperwork, registering everything – it’s pretty backwards here in Thailand,” said Buddy. “Registering a logo, trade marking, all those things were really a pain to complete.” However, Buddy and Man were quick to mention how Thailand’s attitude towards start-ups in general is positive and there is a belief in these businesses: “Of course, political instability is a worry and something we all keep an eye on, but as far as domestic business, we’re not too concerned,” explained Man. “With Thailand being a third-world country, it allows for services like ours to exist. Our type of service has always existed in some form, for example you can ask a motorcycle taxi to pick-up and deliver goods, however there’s no security in that, for both customer and driver. We’re taking these type of services unique to countries like ours and making them safer, more legitimate and transparent – for all parties involved.”
It’s an interesting point to note that countries such as Thailand are making the most of services that have existed (sometimes only) in their respective countries. Only last month, Uber piloted UberMOTO in Bangkok, the first country to receive Uber’s new motorbike taxi service. Bangkok was chosen based upon its population’s frequent use of motorbike taxis to travel around the city’s congested roads fast and efficiently.
There’s also the question of Thai culture and family values. When asked if Thailand’s culture of keeping business within the family and the tradition of younger generations taking over family businesses had caused any issues when launching Zabaii, Buddy and Man both had similar responses: “We didn’t come under any criticism from family, they supported us and for ourselves, we see this as an opportunity to learn about running a business. Of course one day we may take over our family businesses, but before we think about that, we can learn from the bottom up about launching and running our business.”
A WORD OF ADVICE FOR START-UPS
The guys at Zabaii offered some good advice for others thinking of following in their footsteps: “Don’t spend money on expensive office space, know who you are, what you want to achieve and be ready to get your hands dirty. Know your work ethics and adapt where necessary.” We think there’s a bright future ahead for them and start-ups in Thailand. If you’re a start-up looking for web or app development, you can contact Vimi here to get a quote today.